— Young Adult Education

Talking to Emery Lord About Feminism, Flawed Characters & ‘Open Road Summer'

Sometimes it’s hard for me to write about the books I really, truly love. It’s easy to calmly discuss the great parts of a book I like, but when it comes to love…well, I basically just want to draw a heart around the book’s cover, push a copy into your hands, and call it a day. What I’m trying to say is that if I knew more about Photoshop, this column would just be hearts all over the cover of Emery Lord’s Open Road Summer. Alas, I can’t edit photos, so you’ll have to deal with my words.

Open Road Summer has all the things I never even knew I wanted out of a YA romance, like:

1. A Taylor-Swift-like character
2. A bad girl with a heart of gold
3. A tour bus
4. An amazing BFF relationship
5. An equally amazing swoonworthy guy

The back cover says that Open Road Summer is “Taylor Swift meets Sarah Dessen,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it (or a more ringing endorsement). Reagan, the aforementioned bad girl, wants to get as far away from her problems as possible. Luckily, her BFF Lilah Montgomery (also known as Dee) is a country superstar who just so happens to be going on a 24-city tour. Reagan is looking forward to a summer alone with Dee and her millions of fans, but then Dee’s (very talented and very cute) new opening act Matt Finch shows up.

There’s a lot of kissing, some great BFF bonding, some fighting, and did I mention the kissing? This is the best YA romance I’ve read in a long time, and I read a lot of YA romances. Reagan is a little self-destructive and angry sometimes, but it’s hard not to root for her. And while, yeah, this is a romance, the relationship between Dee and Reagan is just as important.

Emery Lord was nice enough to not only deal with my fangirling, but to answer my nosy questions about her book. She’s a super smart lady who cares about feminism, flawed characters, and cheesecake. You know, the important things in life. Obviously, you’re all going to love her as much as I do.

Q: Since a lot of HelloGiggles readers are in high school, can you let us know what you were like back then?

A: Um, I actually loved high school. I mean, yes, I had my heart smashed to smithereens a few times and thought my parents were trying to ruin my life, but I loved my friends to pieces and did things like band, choir and theater, which I loved. The downside to that was…I was really kind of in my own little suburban bubble. I didn’t think much past my own experiences or even past high school. I love my hometown, but the outside world has been good for me 🙂

Q: There’s a lot of music in Open Road Summer, and Lilah Montgomery is a very Taylor Swift-like character. Did you listen to music when you were writing? Are you a country music fan? And, most importantly, what is your favorite Taylor Swift song?

A: I listen to SO much music while writing. My headphones are a constant in my life, though I tend more toward folk stuff than country. While writing ORS, though, the country I listened to was largely by a songwriter named Nicolle Galyon, as inspiration for Dee’s music (specifically Beautiful Day, New Emmylou, and Dance Hall), plus a few Mindy Smith, Lady Antebellum and Taylor Swift tracks. My favorite Taylor track!?! So hard! I’m a huge fan of her new record, but I have to go with Mine. I listened to it on loop for periods of time while writing Open Road Summer, so it has sentimental value now 🙂 So, like, Mine AND the entire Red album and every song ever, final answer.

Q: I know you’re a feminist (because we follow each other on Twitter, not because I’m stalking you). What does feminism mean to you? How does your feminism influence your writing?

A: I never identified as a feminist as a teen (please see my answer to the first question, haha) because I thought feminism meant man-hating or something. Now, feminism is one of the vital lenses that I see the world through. Not only does it mean I believe in the equality of women/all people…but that I care a lot about examining how girls are being treated. Feminism is integral to writing for me and part of why I do it. My main goal is to write fully-formed, flawed girls. It’s hard for me to watch female characters who are struggling criticized as “whiny” or those who cry as “dramatic.” C’mon! They’re human. And in YA, they’re teens! So, I’m going to try to keep writing complicated girls as a means toward what I think is the most important thing: empathy.

Q: Reagan starts out the novel as sort of a mean girl. She doesn’t really have any sort of kinship or camaraderie with other women—she sees them as threats. What were the challenges of creating a flawed main character, especially one whose viewpoint you probably didn’t agree with often?

A: Yeah, it was incredibly cringe-y to write a protagonist who is…frankly, wrong. She punishes the wrong people, and it’s hard to watch/write. I had to make two Post-Its for above my computer: “I believe in realism” and “I believe in readers.” The first one meant: I needed to portray how a girl who’s been so repeatedly hurt would act, not how she should act. Writing idealism isn’t fair to girls like Reagan who have Seen Some Sh*t–girls have to be allowed to show flaws, even when their flaw is unkindness. The second Post-It is this: I trust readers to realize that novels aren’t manifestos about How to Act. I trust them to recognize crappy behavior, even if I don’t spell it out or hand them a big old lesson wrapped in a bow.

Q: One of my absolute least favorite criticisms of YA is that the genre is full of weak, anti-feminist characters who do little more than take part in love triangles (granted, most of these criticisms are from people who’ve never read YA and are just quoting articles they read about Twilight). In my experience, YA is full of interesting, weird, strong, flawed, real female characters who make their own decisions—in other words, I think feminism is alive and well in YA. What’s your take on this? And what books would you point to as examples of feminism in YA?

A: I totally agree with you. The YA genre excels, especially these days, at 3-dimensional female characters. And that’s one of the most important parts of feminism for me: to stop lumping Females into this one big, sitcom-y trope where we’re all emotional and feminine and easy to categorize. One of my favorite recent examples is from Sarah Maas’s Throne of Glass Series. Celaena Sardothien is a teenage assassin–fiercely loyal and literally cutthroat. She’s also very into her looks, preoccupied with boys, sometimes stoic and sometimes emotional. I love that she can be all these things at once. Every girl I know is a thousand sometimes-contrary things! We deserve to be portrayed as such.

Q: When you picture your ideal reader, who do you see?

A: Ooh, wow. Honestly, anyone who has a few hours and an open heart for two girls who are having a rough time 🙂

Q: What can we look forward to seeing from you next?

A: In April 2015, I have another book out with Bloomsbury, about an introverted good girl named Paige, grief, a cozy bookstore, the suburbs, the girl friends who show up for you every time, trivia competitions, A Boy (duh) and, as always, setting who you are against who you want to be and trying to close that gap. The title hasn’t been announced yet, but hopefully soon because I love it!

Q: And now for the most important question I ask everyone…if you could only eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be?

A: Cheesecake. It fulfills my two most basic dietary needs: cheese and cake.

A huge thank you to Emery for answering my questions! You can order Open Road Summer here or buy it in stores on April 15th (seriously, do it). You can also check out Emery’s website, where you can watch the trailer for Open Road Summer.

What about you guys? Are you eager to read Open Road Summer? Be sure to let me know in the comments! And, as always, I love to hear your suggestions for books to feature in Young Adult Education. Leave a comment, send me an email at youngadulteducation@gmail.com or find me on Twitter @KerryAnn.

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